A Letter to New Mothers

Hey Mama,

We are closing in on the end on my little one’s first birthday. It is hard to believe that our tiny new babe has been here for a year. It’s a wonderful, nostalgic, wistful time and also the first signal that we’re exiting baby land. This little guy is getting bigger. Soon he’ll be off bottles and taking one nap a day. All the signs that he’s becoming a little person and we’re leaving the land of littles behind.

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Baby land is a wild and chaotic place. It is the Wild Things. It is a jungle. It is a beautiful place, full of mystery and bliss and struggle where you must work harder than you have ever worked for joy you thought might come easy.

I highly recommend baby land. If you want children, baby land is incredible, but it is a very hard place to be, even under the best of circumstances. As I see this chapter of our lives come to a close, it’s hard not to wish I had been able to access the knowledge, the clarity, the sanity that I have now and wanting to give myself so much more kindness that I ever would have allowed.

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As you enter this new world, you may find yourself looking at the past. Looking at a life that you could have had, had you not gone down this path. There will be moments when you are overwhelmed and you think, did I really choose this? Then in a flash, your child may smile at you or lay their head on your chest and you will think- oh yes, thank goodness I did. Their hand will accidentally brush hair from your face and you will hold your breath in the hopes it lasts forever. 

And yet again when they go to bed at night (for a few minutes, for a few hours?) and you choose to rest or you choose to clean or you choose to daydream or pull out your phone and look at their photos, you may think, “What have I done?” But you have made life and are molding that life and it is molding you.

It is okay to daydream of relaxing days. It is okay to be annoyed that you cannot eat your lunch in peace or feel overwhelmed that nothing is going to plan. In this new world of motherhood, there is an expectation of super human abilities. That you will remain calm in the face of chaos. That you will keep a beautiful home, perfectly divide all domestic duties with your partner, lose the weight, keep up your Instagram aesthetics and live a full, robust meaningful life outside the home. You will have it all and do it all.

Except you can’t. You’ll have to give some things up. A little bit of sanity, some hobbies, the clean floor, some of your social life. You may even think you have to give all of it up, but that’s not quite true either.

For many mamas, for me, the hardest thing I never understood was having to advocate for myself with myself, to practice self-care. To be able to recognize when I was heading towards the brink and to be proactive. To understand that I needed a break whether the day was hard or not. That I didn’t have to be drowning before asking my husband to take over, before saying, “I’ll do the dishes. You put the baby to bed.” It was both our jobs- the dishes and the babies. For all my feminism, for all my preparation, I have learned that lesson over and over again.

This new baby will be all consuming and you will feel you must make them the center of your life- how could you not?- but you are still important. That baby loves you and wants you to value yourself even if their tiny brain could never put that thought together. Put a reminder on your phone to do something for yourself every day, even if it is just a hot cup of tea or 5 minutes outside alone. Treat yourself like your best friend would- with kindness but no bullshit.

It’s okay to reduce your stress level. Let go of what you think meals should be- exciting or complicated. Change from cloth diapers to (biodegradable) disposable ones. Give up breastfeeding for formula. Whatever is not working for you. And when you do, send your guilt out with the trash. This is your journey and your family. Outside judgements need not enter here.

No matter how it feels, you’re not alone Mama. While being a mother may make you more aware of the sharp judgements of others (many opinions you may have been guilty of once too), you will also be shocked at the kindness and generosity of total strangers. Ask for help, reach out for a kind word, share your journey, joys and sorrows.

I am not out of the woods. I am learning motherhood every day. This new world has opened me wide and raw. It has fogged my brain and cleared my eyes. It feels like it has changed everything and yet, has it? Or has what’s important just been amplified? Has what’s important simply been revealed?

The days are long but the years are short. You will not always be able to embrace the chaos, sometimes it will be suffering and sometimes hilarity but if you can laugh through the tears from time to time, you’re doing something right.

Although I am incredibly frugal cheap, I recently made the investment in family photos. When I met with the photographer, she asked me why we were getting these done. I was honest when I shared that this time is so incredibly difficult that I struggle to see beyond the chaos. That I want photos that I can look back on and see how truly beautiful things were. That our family was just as it needed to be not in spite of the challenges of parenting but because of them. It’s not always easy to remember.

Everyone’s experience is different. You may walk into motherhood as if you were born for it, but if not, these feelings too shall pass. But the love you feel will not.

 

 

 

 

 

Postpartum Real Life

It’s hard to express how much I love my babies. The love is constantly evolving, growing deeper every day. It starts at this place deep in my chest that twists and wrenches tight when they cry. And when they smile, the warmth starts deep in my belly and blooms upward filling me.

But it’s also hard to express it, because it’s become increasingly clear to me that I have postpartum depression. People ask me how things are going, if the fog is starting to clear and I lie. Because we are still sleeping poorly at 5 months postpartum, my brain still feels broken and I have yet to regain control over my emotions.

I have two incredible children. Their voices fill my heart with joy. My husband is a supportive kind partner. I like my job. I do interesting, fulfilling work. Sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes it is more than enough.Logically, I know that I am lucky. In my best moments, I feel grateful and energetic. But so often I feel there is a wall blocking me from enjoying it.

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The wall effects the way I feel about Austin. It effects the way I feel about my home, my husband, myself. I hate that. I hate to admit it. I hate to think about it but there it is, all the same.

I am lucky to live in a time where women are sharing their stories, that struggling with a new baby is a common story that women are more honest about. Still I see picture perfect Instagram accounts, I see women getting through so much more than is on my plate and I think why can’t I do more?

Postpartum depression effects 1 in 8 women and yet we mostly hide it away, with little in the way of a safety net for new moms. Luckily when I described how I felt after my first pregnancy to my midwives, they recognized I had experienced it with Haines and shared with me that I would likely experience it again. So this time I’ve at least been able to recognize, this is not how I should be feeling. This time I’ve sought help. This time when I do things for myself, I try to recognize that it truly effects my mental health and isn’t just selfish.

I don’t write just to share. I write because I have so appreciated the women, friends and strangers alike, who share about their journey in motherhood raw and authentically. It has been enormously comforting to see the many paths of motherhood without the shine of glossy family photos.

I wish I had more words to describe this phase of life, but it’s too raw and too real. Too good and too hard. So I’ll just put this here for now.

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Self-Care January

I am a person of lists. And goals. I love lists of goals. Even lists of lists of goals. So when my friend @thenewchrissy declared that she would be doing monthly challenges for 2019, I jumped on board. We share a lot of interests and values but I modified her a few of her challenges to fit my needs.

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A lot of folks start the year with Dry January. It makes sense considering the overindulgence of the holidays but I wanted to start the year off on a different foot. With only a few weeks left in my maternity leave, I wanted to focus on just enjoying it and relaxing as much as possible before it was back to the grind. Thus Self-Care January.

Self-care on maternity leave (especially at the end of one without pay) is not spa days or days alone in self-reflection or girls weekends. It is a 30 minute bath at the end of the day with a magazine. It is going to the grocery store alone and walking the aisles very slowly. It is choosing not to fold the laundry and painting my toenails instead. It is getting outside everyday.

Having a reminder that I needed to make time for myself was really helpful as I faced going back to work. The prospect of going back to work has, in my experience, been worse than the actual return but it’s still painful.

It’s hard to be present even in the parts of my job that I enjoy (which is the majority to be fair) when I’m aware of all the things I’m missing at home. Is he smiling right now? Is he cooing? Is he thinking about rolling over? (Yes, yes and not yet.) I race home to divide my time between two amazing, demanding children. One who wants cuddles and to be nursed. Another who wants to read books or tell me things like “I ride in Dada’s truck” (it’s not fascinating but it’s still cute). On my first week back of work, Haines was sent home from daycare with a fever and I was ecstatic to spend the following day with him. With Austin safely tucked away at my mom’s, we watched a movie, took walks and played hard. I loved it.

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Still at the end of the day, I was ready for a moment of me. I went to bed at 8. Best self-care decision ever.

February’s challenge is Snail Mail which I’m really looking forward to. I used to be an excellent pen pal but now I’m incredibly inconsistent. This month is going to be an opportunity to get back into one of my favorite activities.

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Back to Work

This week, after twelve quick weeks, I returned to work. In America, my friends congratulate me on being eligible and able to take advantage of the full twelve week leave. The men I know all say, “Wow, that’s a long time.” My friends in other countries think it is ridiculous that twelve weeks is considered ample time to recover and return to work. As someone who hasn’t slept a full night in months, I’m inclined to agree.

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I know there are so many benefits to being working parent. I drink my caffeine hot and enjoy adult conversations on a daily basis. I use my brain and solve problems that make me feel accomplished, even if just for the workday. I have a career, a boss, a field that I enjoy. Oh and the biggest advantage- dual income!

But I will never stop feeling that I am missing it. Not just missing out but truly missing “it.” Missing the best parts of the day with my boys. Missing them grow before my eyes. Missing everything. Our time together is mostly sleepy breakfasts, wrestling in and out of pajamas, perilous dinners (Will he throw a tantrum because we dared offer him food?), nursing in the wee hours, and reading a quick bed time book to one while the other protests, ready to be rocked to sleep. It is not nothing but it is also not enough. Would anything be?

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Even though I like most things about my job and my life, going back to work also makes me feel like I am running back into a hamster wheel. Thirteen hours of each day will be spent at full speed. Up at 6 so we can all get dressed, get fed, get out the door. Work hard to leave the office by 5 to get home, to get everyone fed, dressed, in bed around 7 before sweet tiredness turns into angry tears. Clean up, prep for tomorrow, take a shower in the hopes that there will be a few quiet, relaxing moments before nursing the baby again and lights out at ten.

There is no perfect balance. No parent doesn’t wish to be home, long to be at work, can’t wait for the kids to go to bed, and joyfully wake them up. Our situation will find its normal but for a few days at least I am giving myself the space to feel all the feelings as they are.

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There is something extra sad about going back to work this time knowing we will not be doing this again. We’ve decided our family feels just right as a foursome so there will be no more pregnancies, no more newborns, no more back to works. All of which is the right choice for us but it is hard not to feel wistful about the end of this chapter.

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Postpartum Life

The weeks after baby’s birth are beautiful and totally brutal. There is the incredible joy of the new arrival. There are so many quiet moments caught up in watching this little life. Watching his little fists swat around in a robotic dance makes me laugh. One day soon he will see his hands and look at them in amazement. Another milestone arrived and on to the next.

At two and a half weeks, he sleeps for a couple hours at a time. Every day or so, he does a four stretch. Sometimes this is at night, sometimes it’s not. His face, completely relaxed, lips smushed in a pout is a heart wrencher but also puts me into a full sprint towards the nearest couch or bed. Total joy and totally tired.

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He eats well, something to be thankful for. I am happy when he is full and peaceful, but I do not wake up gleeful at 4 am when it is time to feed again. I don’t want to change his diaper although I am glad it is wet or dirty. I don’t want to uncover my own warm body to fetch him from his bed and fill him up, but I do. It is a gift for me to get to do so and my gift to him. Once we are cuddled up together and I halt his cries, then I remember the simple joy of our togetherness. Although not when he wakes up again 30 minutes later with an unknown complaint, cries of gas or needed comfort or more hunger.

I find myself considerably more patient with those in my life who wear diapers than those who speak in full sentences. I am almost as easily offended as I am tired. I have eaten so many sweets my teeth feel like they’re rotting.

I spend an unreasonable amount of time on the internet during our endless nursing sessions. The first weeks after birth are a tough time to be on social media so much and yet it is hard to avoid when you are desperately trying to stay awake at all hours of the day and night. I look at photos of friends and strangers adventuring across the world, across town, across their neighborhood. At once I am both jealous and totally content. I would love to be galavanting through another country or exploring a trail or cooking a divinely fancy meal.

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This meal will mostly sound like, “Taco! Haines taco! Haines bite!”

But I would also like to be here, just where I am, watching one baby sleep, knowing the other is also resting and will come home soon to blabber on about his day which I may or may not understand. “Haines paint. Elmo music! Mason (insert something unintelligible).” My home is warm in contrast to this rainy, chilly day. I’m sitting at a table I helped my husband make. In every direction I see photos of our family, art that tells the story of our lives.

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Cousin love

There is also a pile of laundry and a vase of flowers that need to be thrown out. I should have wiped the table before sitting down. There are remnants of Haines’ breakfast sticking my sweater to the wood. My breasts are sore and quite possibly leaking. My clothes don’t fit. I am almost always aware of my stitches and the discomfort that increases when I walk or stand for long periods.

Parenting is complicated. It is being thankful and a bit wistful all at the same time as you move between phases of life: childless to parent, baby to toddler, one child to two. But it is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to me. There’s no place I’d rather be.

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Turning 32: Acceptance, Love and Hope

In only a month I will be 32. Today I am in an unfamiliar city, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world and I am enjoying it tremendously, despite having cried three times already for missing my baby.

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My boys without me

I am listening to two adorable baristas discuss giving up sugar. They are tiny, young, friendly and energetic. One is petite with a pixie look and a valley girl intonation. My 20-year-old self wouldn’t have tolerated her in conversation but completely envied her style. The other has an androgynous look and I am drawn to her smile instantly. My twenty-year old self would have followed her all around campus. I’m still eavesdropping.

But in a month I will be 32 which somehow feels more significant when I turned 30. When I turned 30 I was pregnant for the first time which overshadowed everything else. Two years later I am pregnant again, less overwhelmed by the enormity and more…surrendered? My life, in a long term think-about-the-future sort of way feels paused while I create new life, someone else’s life. My mind has shrunk- unable to take in much beyond my house and the people who live there. I know that since becoming pregnant two years ago I have not been as good of a friend as I once was. I forget birthdays and don’t return emails, never on purpose but simply because. 

I no longer write, travel or create crafts often- all of which are my favorite things. There is a half-finished gray knit hat in a plastic bin in my attic among piles of yarn waiting for me, hoping I will come back for it. But I don’t have the time or money (two things to enjoy traveling) or the energy (required of writing or crafting). Although I sometimes long to do one or many of these activities, mostly I don’t care. It’s become normal but in waiting Haines grow and become more independent, I have seen the light. It won’t always be like this. This is just a phase of life where I will do me, as best as I can do me, and this is enough even though it won’t look anything like before.

Normally in a new city I would be racing around, walking every street. Today I worked remotely, found amazing Mediterranean food, bought two books in the book store where I am now very unhurried. I am sipping tea from an actual teacup and saucer. The afternoon light is casting a gentle flow across old wood floors in the café and I’m admiring the energy of nearby baristas while I write.  

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This is a sign of my age right? When taking time to be slow is just as important as seeing the sights? Then again, bookstores have always been “the sights” for me. I am old enough to have only bought 2 books (it’s called living on a budget) but not old enough to know I should go ahead and buy all the books, because books are invaluable. 

I believe the new year really starts on your birthday. I always look to the new calendar year as a fresh start but birthdays are far more inspiring. So what do I want for my next year? What do I hope for 32?

I hope for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

I hope for calm in the face of chaos.

I hope to have a few moments like this one where I feel contented in everything, fully knowing that all is not perfect.

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Ten years of friendship

I hope to spend time with friends and have a few laughs. I hope to hold hands with my husband after the bab(ies) have gone to bed.

I hope to read a few good books and enjoy a few warm summer nights.

And if I am lucky, I hope to get a few good nights of sleep.

All in all, I think this could be a wonderful year.

 

Baby’s First Year Survival Tools

One of the things expecting mothers always panic about is all the things. You feel you need all the things! In reality, you won’t need half of what you end up with when you have a baby. A lot of people will try to give you things. You’ll most likely accept everything  thinking, how am I to know what I need? You don’t, so cut yourself some slack. I don’t know what you need either, but I do know what I used to get through HEB’s first year. If we have another baby we’ll probably need totally different things! But hopefully not because we’re not buying anything.

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Newborn hell (or 0 to 3 months):

I have to be honest, those newborn days that everyone (without a newborn) glows over… those are pretty intense. Even if you are not breastfeeding you may start to think, surely this is impossible! Horribly enough we all started off as extremely needy, up all hours of the night, feeding every 2 hours, adorable little babies.

  • Netflix– get it, gift it, don’t judge yourself for binging it.
  • Chicco Keyfit stroller caddy– We loved this for the ability to plop our carseat right in and start strolling without ever disturbing our sleeping babe. There’s also tons of storage underneath so I could throw his diaper bag in there. I preferred using this for grocery shopping (heavy things in the caddy, light things in a basket) rather than a cart when he was small.
  • A breastfeeding station- Find yourself a Boppy or a Brest Friend or whatever and keep it near your comfiest chair or couch. Near that fill a basket with granola bars or easy to eat snacks, your kindle or your TV remote and remember to bring water when you’re sitting down to feed. Two minutes in and you’ll suddenly remember you’re DYING of thirst.
  • Rock n Play– Haines slept in the Rock n Play for the first 4 months of his life and absolutely loved it. Admittedly though we never put the batteries in so it didn’t rock him on its own. I would reach out and rock him to sleep in the middle of the night if needed, but never used the actual function. I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to stop.

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3-6 months:

This was a pretty tough time for me. I went back to work and Haines’ sleep had really gotten worse so the level of fatigue was high. At the same time though H started to interact with us. He was alert and playful. It really lifted me up.

  • Bouncy chair– This is something we didn’t know we really needed. It was a hand-me-down (as is everything else) and I wasn’t even sure why we would want it. Um… you want to carry this lightweight all over your house so you can get things done! This is what baby lays in while you cook dinner, go to the bathroom, type your blogs- all the important things.
  • Frozen meals- I had fixed some items in advance and my mom and Natalie also stocked my freezer as well. The first few weeks/months we were the beneficiaries of a meal train but that comes to an end well before the fatigue does. Having the world’s easiest meals on hand is very helpful. I also froze muffins to help me with my constant need to snack.
  • Ergo– We started out with a 2nd hand Chicco carrier which worked okay, but it was a huge upgrade when a friend gave us an Ergo. After a little while you start to want options for going out and having some sort of baby wearing device is a must. (Also, I tried a wrap and found it to be an enormous pain the tush.)

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6-9 months:

The first turning point! Everything was fun during these few months (minus sleep training and ear infections). Haines was excited for everything- food, Clara, being outside. There were also so many milestones during this time. He sat up, crawled and walked all between 7 and 9 months.

  • Kiddo food trays- I LOVED using these to make Haines’ baby food. I made all of his food at home which was much easier than I anticipated. When he napped on the weekend, I would dump all the veggies into a steamer before blending in our Nutri-bullet. Any blender will do. The only downside here- HEB moved on from purees pretty quickly. He wanted to feed himself!
  • Baby proofing- This turned out to be much more in depth than I would have expected. We had to get rid of several pieces of furniture that we deemed being too annoying with a baby to keep. If you’re going to try to limit your “No! Don’t touch that!” conversations than I will suggest going beyond outlet covers and cabinet locks. Every trash can in your house should have a heavy lid, your toilet paper should be moved near the ceiling and any knick-knacks resting within 3 feet of the floor should be moved. Probably just get rid of your blinds now.
  • Baby Einstein Take Along Tunes Musical Toy- For months this was Haines favorite toy. It could entertain him indefinitely. This is probably the only thing we ever tore up the house looking for.
  • Nursery rhymes- Start practicing now. This was the only way we could get perk up a cranky baby during diaper changes or going into his carseat.

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9-12 months:

This was the second turning point. We have a routine. We can mostly anticipate Haines likes and dislikes. He’s fussier and harder to console but also easier to distract. Children are weird.

  • Alphaprints book & The Itsy Bitsy Snowman are Haines two favorite books right now. They are guaranteed to lift his mood!
  • Bathmat– If your baby wants to crawl all around the bathtub then I recommend getting a non-slip bathmat for the tub. It has cut down on his falls tremendously and ours has a hook so it can hang on the shower to dry.
  • Spoutless sippy cup– Haines has struggled with all the other cups we’ve given him but took to this one right away! (Full disclosure: we still use a bottle most of the time, but this cup has helped a lot).

 

If you’re stressing about needing all the things, don’t. Get a carseat. Figure out a safe place for the baby to sleep. Buy a few diapers (and expect many more in gifts). Collect every hand me down you can. You’ll figure out the rest.

And remember, for better or for worse, this is only temporary.

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